Research indicates that one in every five U.S. children experiences difficulty learning to read.
Many of the children who are struggling readers have average or above average intelligence. In 2000, the National Assessment for Educational Progress found that 38 percent of fourth graders read below the basic level for their grade. About 25 percent of adults in the U.S. are functionally illiterate, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
These are facts that should alarm us all. Solutions should include scientifically research-based reading instruction for all students, increased training for teachers and well-informed active parents.
The most important factor in student learning is a knowledgeable, caring teacher. Teachers must be trained to identify, diagnose and treat problems of the struggling reader. They must recognize that not all students learn in the same way or at the same rate. School districts must provide professional training in scientifically research-based reading instruction for all learners.
Giving teachers knowledge to help struggling readers is the responsibility of school district. The Lee County School District is training teachers this summer by offering graduate level courses conducted by C. Wilson Anderson, an Orton-Gillingham Fellow. The courses are entitled Introduction to Multi-sensory Phonics – Level I (Introduction to the Orton-Gillingham Approach) and Curriculm Adaptation for Struggling Readers. These courses should give teachers knowledge and skills to help struggling readers of all ages. The emphasis is on early identification and intervention for these students.
Teacher training programs at the university level need to add scientifically research-based reading instruction to their offerings. Graduates of elementary education programs need better preparation to teach reading. Preparation of competent teachers is essential, and emphasis should be placed on effective reading instruction as well as instruction of students who struggle in learning to read.
Well informed parents also are keys to student success. Parents are a child's best advocate because they know their child better than anyone else. Parents should ask questions about reading instruction at their child's school – Is instruction based on scientific research? Parents should be aware of reading progress of their child – How does my child's reading ability compare to others his/her age?
Since early intervention is so important, parents should pay special attention to reading in the early years. The more informed and knowledgeable you are as a parent, the more you can help your child.
The issue of struggling readers will continue to be a concern to students, parents, educators, and society as a whole. Schools, teachers, and parents can go along way in providing solutions to this problem.
Becky Hendrix is director of Federal Programs and Assessment for Lee County School District. Contact her at 841-9144.